In a last minute dash to avoid a funding lapse that could shutter federal offices, on Thursday night Congress sent to President Biden a continuing resolution (CR) that would temporarily fund the government at FY 2021 levels for 11 weeks, through Friday, February 18, 2022.
Although Democratic and Republican leaders all insisted that a stopgap spending bill would certainly cross the finish line in time, the outcome in the Senate was tenuous. A block of conservative Senators, led by Mike Lee (R-UT) and Roger Marshall (R-KS), refused to consent to accelerated consideration of the House-passed CR without first securing a vote on an amendment prohibiting federal funding for President Biden’s vaccine mandate for large employers. Without a compressed debate schedule, the Senate would not complete consideration of the continuing resolution before current funding expired.
While politically tough amendment votes are considered the price of leadership, in the evenly divided Senate, there was real concern the Lee-Marshall amendment would actually succeed, bouncing the CR back to the House where it was unlikely to pass. At that point, a temporary funding lapse would be unavoidable (at best), raising the odds of a drawn-out vaccine slugfest evocative of the Trump-imposed 35-day border wall shutdown in 2019 (at worst).
In the end, Senate Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) acquiesced to the conservatives’ demands, aided by the absence of two Republicans—Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Bill Hagerty (R-TN), thus guaranteeing the controversial amendment would fail. In the end, the Lee-Marshall amendment was defeated 48-50 and the underlying stopgap funding bill passed 69-28.
Crisis averted…for now.
Next up: the federal debt limit, which the Treasury says it could breach as early as December 15th.